Mac(abee) and Cheese

I am completely at ease with my age. I am not at all embarrassed to admit I just skipped my 15 year high school reunion. ($30 a ticket when Facebook is free? Pfft!) I’ll admit, it’s weird to remember things from 25 years ago so easily, but as Aleza pointed out last week, it’s pretty neat to remember history and be a part of it at the same time.

My body, however, is a different story. Things creak and crack, weight seems extremely easy to gain and much harder to lose. Last week when I bent down to pick up a boot, I pulled something in my back. I spent the work week Googling words like “lumbar support” and “yogic stretches at a desk.” I rode my bike some days, but didn’t want to push it too hard. Thursday night, after I stood by the stove frying celery root and carrot latkes, and stirring my butter and flour to make a roux for my chipotle mac and cheese, I felt it a few hours later when I was whimpering in pain at 1AM. I needed a heating pad after yesterday’s hard wooden pew at Christmas Mass, and I’m writing this not from my usual perch on the red couch, but in a chair with my own personal heating pad.

I honestly didn’t even know if I’d get up a post this week, but someone wrote me saying that she’d never fried a latke before and was surprised I didn’t have a recipe posted on Cheap Beets. Not one to leave anyone in a food-related lurch, I immediately e-mailed her my favorite go-to potato latke recipe. But I’m so mortified I’d let that important food detail slip, that I’m offering up two holiday-related recipes as penitence.

The first, a latke fried in oil, is to remind us of the miracle of the menorah. Briefly, in the 2nd century BCE, the tyrannical Greek King of Syria, Antiochus, outlawed Judaism and took over the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. A Jewish rebellion ensued, led by the Maccabees, and against all odds, the Jews reclaimed the Temple from the Greeks. The Jews had to repair and purify the Temple, but they only had one night’s supply of oil for lighting their holy menorah. Miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight consecutive nights, giving them just enough time to replenish their olive oil supply.

For Eastern European Jews, the potato latke is the most common fried recipe. (Israeli Jews eat sufganiyot, fried jelly doughnuts.) Now, the latke I have for you is made not with potato but with celery root and carrot. My friend Russ, who likes to keep it real and old school for the holiday, always goes potato, but hear me out. First, potatoes are a soggy drag. You have to squeeze and squeeze all the excess water out, and you’re always left with a brown puddle at the bottom of your mixing bowl. Second, how old school is it, really? Potatoes are a New World vegetable, so it looks like the potato latke tradition is only a few hundred years old, at best.

I went with carrot and celery root because my co-worker’s wife gave us another of her CSA celery root rejects on Thursday morning and I thought they’d team well with some of the remaining CSA carrots I still had in the crisper. I paired those with a dollop of cilantro and garlic yogurt, because, well, why not?

The second dish I have is to celebrate a lesser-known, but possibly even more awesome Chanukah food: cheese. The custom of cheese for Chanukah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Chanukah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. Judith, a beautiful widow, plied the Assyrian army’s general with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious.

Sure, the tale is hidden in the Apocrypha, but I like celebrating a strong female leader – and cheese. I actually was able to use wine in this dish too, from the same small bottle I used for our stuffed pumpkin in the fall. (What can I say, we’re not big wine drinkers.) I add chipotle to mine, riffing off an episode of Gilmore Girls I once saw where Sookie cooked up a pan of jalapeno mac and cheese for a kid’s birthday party. The kids hated it, but I kind of sat up and went “oh?” And thus, chipotle mac and cheese was born.

Celery Root and Carrot Latkes

Ingredients

1 celery root, washed and peeled

2 medium-sized carrots, peeled

½ red onion

3 eggs

1/3 cup flour

¼ teaspoon cumin

Pinch of salt

Oil to fry

Directions

Shred, with a box grater or food processor, first three ingredients. Place into a large mixing bowl, and add the next four. Heat approximately 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet (I prefer a non-stick skillet, and actually have two going at the same time for this step.) Lower the flame and space out as many tablespoons of batter as you can fit without them touching. Fry on one side for approximately four minutes until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side for three minutes. (Uncharacteristically, I actually employ a timer for this task.)

Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter, adding more oil when necessary.

Serve with the following yogurt.

Cilantro Yogurt

In a small bowl, mix together:

¾ cup Greek yogurt (I used whole-fat, but I know a reduced-fat would work well, considering all the flavor boosters in this sauce.)

½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1 small clove garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

I ended up with leftovers of this dip, and mixed it with some chickpeas I had in the fridge the next day for lunch. It was terrific.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups macaroni (really, any small pasta will work well for this)

¼ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups milk

½ cup dry white wine

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) shredded cheddar cheese

1 chipotle in its adobe sauce, chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and chipotle and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. (This brownish paste is called a roux, by the way.) Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Stir in the white wine. Bring to boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

Let's talk about the roux, just for a sec.

Add the ¾ of the cheese to the sauce. Stir well to mix in the cheeses, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Add your well-drained pasta into the sauce, then pour everything into a 13”x9” or 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

The Silver Lining

This past June, on the way to my cousin’s baby shower, I got lost. Really, really lost. Like, call my parents on a Sunday morning slightly hysterical lost. Like, call Rich the morning after a bachelor party while he’s eating at IHOP lost. The worst part was I had a GPS, but the road I would have normally taken was being worked on, and every time I turned on the GPS to lead me north, it directed me back to the closed-off highway. By some miracle, I made it to the shower on-time, although I now know that GPS and cellphone reception between Lowell, MA, and southern New Hampshire is a bit spotty in places.

The silver lining to the story is that while I was in the car, NPR’s Weekend Edition introduced me to Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef now working in London, whose new vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, has become a smash hit this year. Vegetarian and Israeli — basically, a cookbook written for me. My friend Sara tells me that when she lived in London in 2005 she went to his restaurant all the time, but was always surprised that he had so little name recognition in the States.

As soon as I made it back from the shower, I put my name on the waiting list at the library. There were about two dozen people ahead of me, and as his recipes started popping up on blogs I read, I needed to remind myself that patience is a virtue. Last week, I received the notice that the book was waiting for me at my local branch around the corner. I was so excited. It was my turn, finally. Mine, mine, mine.

Except, not unlike the GPS debacle, the book the librarian handed me wasn’t Plenty, but his first cookbook, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written in 2008. Well, I told myself, a top chef still has top recipes, even if they aren’t the ones I was counting on. So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons — or, in Ottolenghi’s case, preserved lemons — and dove in.

It’s always interesting reading a cookbook from another country because it’s a reminder that there’s a whole lot of world outside of my home. I knew that courgettes were zucchini and aubergines were eggplants, but I had no idea that snow peas were called mangetout, or that I actually had a swede — aka a yellow turnip, aka a rutabaga — in my crisper. I also had celeriac, (celery root) in the house as well, a cast-off from my officemate’s CSA.

The recipe I have for you today, a celery root and rutabaga slaw, is just perfect for these late autumn/almost winter months, and makes me wish these veggies were year-round produce. I’d never considered eating rutabaga raw, as I usually roast or braise them. And boy, have I been missing out! Seriously, the dish is extraordinary. Rich said it was one of the better things I’ve made lately. Not that I’ve been serving him swill; it’s just a really amazing salad.

Here’s what Ottolenghi has to say about this dish:

It is a bit like a rémoulade in its tang, but also has multilayered sweet (dried cherries) and savoury (capers) flavours to create a magnificently intense accompaniment to fish or lamb. It will also make a great addition to a vegetarian mezze.

Variations on this dish are endless. Try using kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, carrot or cabbage, or a combination of them for this salad. Most soft herbs would suit, and don’t forget the acidity from citrus juice or vinegar to lighten it up.

I always have capers in the house, and I keep dried cherries from Ocean State Job Lot on hand in the pantry at all times, making this a great pantry recipe. I’ve made this dish twice in a five day period, and that’s without my large food processor. If you do have a food processor, this whips up in a jiff; if you don’t, I promise you it’s worth the extra effort. I didn’t have any sunflower oil on hand, so I used olive oil exclusively for the salad. I also used regular sugar in lieu of caster sugar. The slaw was still wonderful.

Don’t be scared of the ugly celery root. Give it a rinse to get some of the dirt off, and stand it up on the cutting board and cut the skin off by slicing down the sides of the bulb with a large sharp knife. You can cut the waxy skin off the rutabaga in the same manner.

The recipe is in grams, so my digital scale got quite the workout this week. I’ve converted it into ounces and cups for a more Continental-friendly audience, but the grams are the original measure and most accurate.

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (aka Sweet and sour celery root and rutabaga) from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Serves 4-6

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) celeriac, peeled and thinly shredded

250g (9 oz., 1 1/2 cup) swede, peeled and thinly shredded

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 Tablespoons roughly chopped dill

50g (2 oz., 1/3 cup) capers, drained and roughly chopped

4 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

4 Tablespoons olive oil

4 Tablespoons sunflower oil

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons caster sugar

100g (3.5 oz., 1/2 cup) dried sour cherries

Salt and black pepper

  1. Place the shredded celeriac and swede in a mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly. ‘Massaging’ the vegetables a little will help them absorb the flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking You might also want to add some extra sugar and vinegar.
  2. Allow the salad to sit for an hour so the flavors can evolve. It will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge. Add more herbs just before serving, for a fresher look.